Inside Srinagar’s Lower Court, a silent simmer is peaking up in the young female lawyers’ battery—who while rubbing shoulders with their male counterparts, are expressing displeasure over what they call a “glaring sense of neglect, bias” while discharging their duty.
These ‘women in black’ who have made to Srinagar’s Lower Court after getting professional degrees from various top institutes say “they aren’t being taken seriously” in the advocacy arena.
“Our problem is,” says Bisma, a young lawyer, “our male counterparts and clients don’t think us capable to handle cases well. Female lawyers aren’t taken seriously—besides, they aren’t being respected by their male colleagues. Gender wage gap has only grown in this profession.”
As a female in this profession, says Sara, another budding lawyer, one faces monetary exploitation quite frequently. “Money-wise, you work akin to labourer—and in the end, you don’t earn anything, but peanuts. At last, you are being handed over only Rs 50 note as a bus fare, which hurts your self- respect a lot!” she laments.
“There should be some specific fee for a case to maintain the decorum, even Bar (Lawyers Association) needs to take a step. Funds are coming, but they don’t pay us,” claims Rohi, another young advocate. “If senior (advocate) takes Rs 80,000-100,000 for a case—then, at least, he should pay 20 percent to junior, who pleads case or represents him. An authority should be set up, so that if senior lawyers don’t pay to juniors, they can complain it to authority concerned.”
Another problem is, she says, Lower Court is “full of agents who aren’t qualified”. They roam in a lawyer’s uniform and plead cases on half rate, Rohi alleges.
Although female lawyers have come a long way elsewhere, but in Kashmir, says Humaira, girls are still being labelled as “incompetent”. “And,” she continues, “there are some people who think that if judgement is passed in female advocate’s favour, it is based on sympathy – not on facts and figures. What a gross statement to make!”
But not everyone is painting picture black for these ‘women in black’.
Once in a while, says Kulsum, a senior lawyer at Lower Court, one might meet someone who would make her feel inferior based on her gender—“but such cases are seen in every profession, and court is not an exception. You need to be patient and honest to survive in this male chauvinistic environment”.
During internship, she says, female interns do face financial and problems related to public dealing quite repeatedly.
“Supreme Court had passed an order in 2010 that new pass-outs (internees) should get Rs 5000 per month, which hasn’t been implemented yet,” says Masrat, a senior advocate. “I believe, the stalement of the court order stems from the societal belief that Law as a profession isn’t meant for girls. You know, people in Kashmir weren’t used to see a female lawyer in the court. They always had to say something negative about female lawyers. Maybe, this mindset does find an acceptance in the court, too.”
Another senior advocate says that behind the glaring bias is the public perception linked with this profession that one has to deal with only criminals in courtroom. “That’s why this profession isn’t being considered good for girls. Certainly, people do have misconceptions about the profession,” she says.
But perceptions aside, these female lawyers face something very disturbing they term a “trust deficit” in the male-dominated profession. “Parties do not trust in your ability as a girl,” says Kausar. “But who can make them understand that being girls, we can handle 488 section cases in a much better way compared to our male colleagues. But we are not given opportunity. And even if the party hires you, sometimes they refuse to pay you in the end,” she laments.
(The names of women lawyers have been changed. Views expressed in this report are narrators’ own. Tabish Khan is an internee with Kashmir Life)